COLLIER COUNTY — The Collier County School Board agreed Monday to a $120,000 settlement agreement with former Superintendent Dennis Thompson, who sued the district last March for breach of contract.
The settlement, proposed during a court-ordered mediation held last week, was accepted unanimously by board members with no discussion during a special meeting. Thompson, who was hired in 2007 and whose contract expired in July, sought about $400,000.
"Even though we would have rather not paid anything, we feel at this time that it was an agreeable amount," Board Chair Roy Terry said after the meeting.
Thompson's attorney, Andrew Reiss of law firm Cheffy Passidomo, said "we are pleased that the matter is resolved," and declined to comment further.
Thompson's lawsuit alleged the board disregarded certain terms of the contract involving the establishment of performance goals, Thompson's annual performance evaluation and the development of a standard that would permit Thompson to earn the automatic one-year extension. It also alleged that the board was obligated to assign him to an administration position within the district at the same pay grade or reassign him through the end of the term of the contract.
The settlement is not an admission of liability by the board, the parties agreed, and Thompson is responsible for his attorney fees.
Board members felt they had a strong case against the former superintendent, but recognized there were inconsistencies in his contract. Kevin Pendley of Grant, Fridkin, Pearson, Athan & Crown, the attorney representing the Collier School Board, had filed responses to the lawsuit stating that the School Board "admits the nature of the action, but denies the amount of damages as stated."
Thompson breached the contract by "failing to comply with his mutual obligations to cooperatively develop and establish superintendent goals and failed to fulfill conditions precedent to the contract," Pendley's responses stated.
"There was ambiguity and a lot of things in the contract that should have been done in 2008 that weren't. There are parts of the contract that weren't executed," Terry said. "The board didn't fill its responsibilities, whereas the board right now followed the contract as closely as we could with what we had."
In negotiating a contract with current Superintendent Kamela Patton, board member Barbara Berry told the Daily News in January, a concerted effort was made to be open and transparent. Had Thompson's contract been handled the same way, the board believes the inconsistencies would not have occurred.
Board members wanted to settle the lawsuit and avoid trial to move forward, Terry said.
"We just think that it's for the best interest of the school district to settle this contract at this time and to move on," he said. "The school district in a very positive position right now, moving forward, and we think we want to continue that without the problems a trial or something would bring later on."